New vision and policies in pipeline for DA

2015-03-22 06:00

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Paul Boughey has been the DA’s chief executive officer since January. He is tasked with developing strategies like Vision 2029 for the federal congress in May, but also for next year’s local government elections. Carien du Plessis spoke to him.

What is your role in the DA?

I’m responsible for the staff, our operational requirements, the finances, and to advise and help develop our strategies for and between elections.

What will be the main focus for the congress?

A number of positions will be up for election, so it is making sure all our systems are in place to ensure a fair outcome. We stand alone as the only party in South Africa that has sufficiently strong internal systems to ensure open contestation in a manner that strengthens the party. This is something that cannot be said of any of our competitors. The congress will also be a very important opportunity for us to reposition ourselves and present our revised value proposition to South Africans.

What will that be?

Flowing out of our strategic review after the successful 2014 elections is a process we’ve termed ‘repositioning of our value proposition’, the offer we make to South Africans and how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors. We are now consulting right down to branch level a vision for South Africa.

We are taking our founding philosophy – an open-opportunity society for all – and explaining it in a number of basic value-laden concepts. Ultimately, we are trying to build greater levels of trust and a connection with our existing voters and new voters on the basis of our shared values.

We will present at congress our Vision 2029, what SA will look like after 10 years of DA government if we were to win power in 2019, and a values charter that underpins our vision, to explain why the DA does what it does, what animates us and why we are passionate about improving the lives of all South Africans.

We want to deal with this weakness that, at the moment, a number of particularly black South Africans don’t know what it is we want for the country [because of misrepresentation by the ANC]. We are therefore putting more effort into positively framing our offer in clear, accessible and emotive terms. This will be a radically different South Africa, one characterised by freedom, fairness and opportunities for all South Africans.

And then?

Immediately after the congress, we will have an extensive campaign with various elements so we can take this offer to South Africans and hopefully start a robust dialogue. This will be our first major campaign in the build-up to 2016.

We’ll adopt a number of short, sharp, position papers to give an expression of how we will achieve these positions, and the values that animate these positions. These policy positions should be seen as the manner in which we will achieve our vision for South Africa.

Is this values charter aimed at pulling together those in the DA who came from other parties like Cope, the Independent Democrats and the New National Party?

Everyone who comes to our party has to ascribe to our founding philosophy. So, whatever beliefs they held in previous parties are irrelevant.

What it tries to do is animate our public representatives, volunteers and activists, to help them take our offer to South Africans in a way that is more understandable.

We are traditionally good in developing comprehensive policy positions, but sometimes they fall short in being written in a way that is accessible.

Is Vision 2029 the DA’s National Development Plan?

We are broadly supportive of the NDP and agree with large components of it, but we also have areas where we might disagree. Vision 2029 is a little different. We will have what we term ‘Thandeka’s journey’, showing someone’s life from birth.

This is the journey someone will take under a DA government and will illustrate that it will strive to create the conditions to ensure that every South African will have every chance to reach their full potential, where the effort they put in is matched by the reward they receive.

It will show that we will create a capable state – for example, Thandeka is born in a well-run state hospital and goes to text-rich schools with animated teachers.

She can access higher education that is provided by the state and will be able to access employment opportunities because the economy will be growing as a result of the DA’s economic policies. This will enable her to provide greater opportunities for her family.

And family structures?

We also recognise that a family structure, never mind how it is constituted, helps provide the basis for an individual to develop and access opportunity. It is a recognition that the DA national government will do anything it can to support these structures so individuals are able to realise their potential.

This is about the value of family, not family values. There is no view on how families are constituted, but children must have support structures to help them reach their full potential.

Will we see some policies changing?

We will have a concrete policy around redress, so I think we will see a bold policy, but still very much grounded in our fundamental policy beliefs. So yes, there could be some adaptions.

Any chance you will tell me what your elections budget is?

No, the budget is still being drafted.

What will your campaign look like?

It is increasingly unclear when the elections are going to be due to the municipal demarcation process which, in our minds, is a gerrymandering effort aimed at undermining our ability to win a number of municipalities.

A local government election is a very complex election because it is, in effect, a number of smaller campaigns around the country and is very resource-intensive.

At local government level is where service-delivery weaknesses manifest themselves the most strongly and it becomes a significant launching pad for further campaigns as Cape Town has demonstrated.

In PE and Tshwane ANC support dipped below 50% for the first time, so we have a strong chance there, and in Johannesburg and even in places like Tlokwe, we stand a chance as ANC support has dramatically declined to close to 50%.

But we are under no illusions that this is going to be a big task.

We will work very hard to ensure we have maximum visibility around the country. We will put a great deal of effort into ensuring that our mayoral candidates are supported by strong campaign teams.

Unlike any other opposition party, we can point to our record in government, especially the Western Cape and Cape Town.

No matter what the ANC argues, we have a strong pro-poor focus to address the inequalities that exist in South Africa and we also provide space for the private sector to grow so we can create the jobs we so desperately need to reduce unemployment and deal with endemic poverty.

What are the challenges?

Any postponement of the elections will have implications for budgets and campaigns for all parties, but we will be ready no matter when the election is declared.

For the first time, we are genuinely concerned about the IEC’s ability to deliver free and fair elections, so we will ensure we have a large number of party observers at voting stations.

We will be working with other parties wherever we can. These concerns stem from the fact that there appears to be a deliberate attempt to undermine the independence of the IEC, as evidenced by the fact that the adviser to President Jacob Zuma is tipped to become the new chair of the IEC.

What will you do about the stayaway vote?

Our research has shown there are misunderstandings about what an election is, and people will often blame all parties for service-delivery failures of the ANC. That is a huge challenge.

Part of what we need to do is to remind people that elections are a job interview. Give us a chance, and if you don’t like us, vote us out. We would say very strongly the same goes for the ANC.

One of the untold stories of 2014 is that the ANC received 1.1 million fewer votes, which is one of the reasons it tipped so low in major urban centres. Our challenge is to build a new trust relationship, so increasing the numbers of South Africans who choose us as the alternative.

And your traditional voters?

They are incredibly loyal because what the DA is doing is historic, we are drawing together a number of people from different backgrounds and races, this has never been done before.

South Africans want to be part of a forward-looking party that draws South Africans from all backgrounds, in defence of the Constitution and in support for our vision of a people-centred, clean and effective government.

Are you concerned that Helen Zille’s outbursts are harming the party?

No, it is to her extraordinary credit that she is so accessible. The fact that she is so accessible, is so authentic, is to an extent the opposite of many politicians.

All our research shows there is a disconnect between citizens and government, and a growing anger at that, so here is someone who has, in effect, two full-time jobs – and people can have a view on what she does or doesn’t say – but who takes the time and the effort to engage.

It is actually a mark of one of her great strengths.

So you won’t stop her Twitter account anytime soon?

Absolutely not, and it is for her to decide. I also think we need to be very clear, there are a few South Africans who think Twitter is SA and it’s not.

It’s a growing bubble, but it is a bubble. Part of the frustration is that some people misunderstand the complexity of our task and what we want to achieve.

What we are moving towards is to deliver our offer in an unmediated way, direct social media, accessibility to our leadership, but nothing is a substitute for knocking on the door and engaging with our voters.

Cheaper data will be the game changer in SA politics as it has been in the rest of the world.

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